Friday, April 17, 2009

And that is the point!

This weekend I took advantage of the weather that makes Spring time in Southern California famous worldwide, drawing so many of us to its shoreline. The picture above shows the Santa Monica pier where I had lunch on Saturday. On the right day, the mix of light and scenery can be extremely intoxicating, and finding a little local seafood, and a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, makes for a very mellow day.

After driving the coast road to Santa Monica, on Sunday I opted to take a parallel course, a few miles further inland. This time I drove down the Mulholland Highway, east of where it becomes Mulholland Drive and one of the favorite addresses for the rich and famous of Hollywood. However, for me the have-to-go-to place on Mulholland Highway is the Rock Store, where everyone with an interest in sports and custom motorcycles, and high-performance cars, just has to go.

This is a favorite hangout for California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who rides to the Rock Store whenever he’s in town. And of course, he’s often accompanied by Jay Leno. On Sunday, even before we pulled to the side of the road, there was a swarm of people at one end of the unpaved turn-in, and sure enough, there was Jay.

Jay has to be the biggest fan of everything mechanized and there’s hardly a vehicle developed, anywhere in the world, where at least one example hasn’t found its way into Jay’s Garage. Some of the vehicles have never seen a production line, hand built by Jay and bordering on the bizarre, and we ran across Jay driving his most adventurous foray into car building to date. Not his Jet Bike that’s powered by an Allison 250-C18 Engine that’s usually found inside the smallish Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, but his brand new EcoJet car!

Riding with Jay was Jim Hall, his chief engineer who oversaw the development of the EcoJet with the goal, according to Jay, “to design and build a car that ran on environmentally friendly, renewable bio-diesel fuel and that didn't drive like a Prius.” Jay also said, according to his web site, that it “makes harvest time the only time of year when there'll be plenty of fuel available, but that's beside the point.”

Jay was only too happy to talk about his inroads into more eco-friendly transportation as he showed off his bio-diesel fueled jet car. Should readers like to now more of the EcoJet pictured below, check out Jay’s Garage at:

“The heart of the EcoJet is a 650+ horsepower Honeywell LT-101 turbine engine, which sits inside a modified Corvette Z06,” Jay explains on the web site, and clearly visible behind the rear glass window in the photo above. Essentially, this is the same engine that is found in the Coast Guard’s rescue helicopters, and certainly ensures the EcoJst exceeds the goal of not driving like a Prius!

With an exhaust temperature at idle of 850+ Fahrenheit and standing, as I was on Sunday, only a few feet away from the horizontal outlets, it’s hard to imagine this vehicle as your daily drive. And the picture here is of me, somewhat overwhelmed by it all, and contemplating whether to bring out the marshmallows!

Jay certainly knows how to pull a crowd, and his behavior and antics ensured a large crowd quickly gathered around him. The on-duty police that were present (two patrol cars had pulled off the road) were just as curious about the car as everyone else.

And it reminded me of how our behavior does group us into tribes, as I recalled in my last post When two tribes go to war ..., and to modern-day equivalents – the groups, clubs, associations, and societies we are so often drawn to. When I served on the ITUG Board (2000 – 2006), I saw first-hand the value that came from participating in NonStop user groups. For me, being part of this group and having access to unfiltered information from other vendors, users, and HP was reward enough for the time I spent in empty hotel rooms and stranded in airport lounges.

This past week had me engaged in a lively email exchange with a couple of past Chairs of ITUG and we reminisced on what we liked most about the NonStop community. Each of us felt our time had been too short, and the transitions following our departures weren’t always as smooth as they could have been. I am sure incoming Chairmen couldn’t wait to see the last of their predecessors but too often the experiences and history that is part of the richness of the user community went with the departure of past Chairs.

However, there is a part of the community that does enjoy continuity of leadership well beyond anything I experienced on the board of ITUG – and that is the Regional User Groups (RUGs). Part of me remains envious of the bond that they enjoy with their community – there’s never any confusion when I ask participants who their RUG leader is. It’s always an immediate response that it’s Fred, or Bill, or Kathy - followed by a raised hand pointing me towards the individual.

As the seasons change, and the greens of Spring become the golds of Harvest, so too we see the times changing for user communities. At one time there were 30+ active RUGs worldwide, with a few more just waiting to be recognized. When RUG leader receptions were held at the start of each ITUG Summit, the room was always full to overflowing. There are far fewer active RUGs today, and the list on the Connect web site is a dramatic reminder of how times have changed.

But the community is evolving – the days of the all-NonStop shop are long gone. Back when NonStop provided an intelligent, fault-tolerant, front-end to much larger mainframe environments, the NonStop staff were as loyal to the product and to their colleagues within the NonStop community as they ever were to their peers within the data center. But as specialists were swapped for generalists, as the data centers were outsourced, and as management began to trade numbers of nines for more homogeneous solutions, the “community” that was NonStop began to quickly erode.

There is still a NonStop community but today, to paraphrase the physicists with their laws on energy conservation, it’s just different. As with energy that cannot be created or destroyed (in an isolated system), it only changes its form, so too has the community changed its form. It’s now online, in chat rooms and participating in forums – a virtual community spanning the globe.

I am often reminded of how sites running NonStop are alarmed by the shortage of skilled staff, but perhaps they shouldn’t be. A knowledgeable and highly skilled talent pool remains and it’s a community whose “form” has simply changed. Today, whether it’s iPhones, Blackberries, Laptops and Netbooks, it continues to be well-informed about NonStop, and I have to wonder if this “virtual” resource could be better utilized. I am not trivializing or downplaying the shortage of experienced NonStop technical skills (that’s real enough for many of us), but rather, focusing attention on the manner in which we elect to tap into the resources that still exists.

In a separate exchange with one RUG leader I remarked on how one result of social networking is that the skilled resources we need are out there, connected to one social network or another, and I asked if RUGs could view themselves as being well-positioned to connect skills with needs, virtually? Not supporting a jobs-board as of old, but with RUGs supporting and promoting entrance paths into the wealth of knowledge they know is present across their region!

Jay Leno did return to the Rock Store, and the picture here is of him and the EcoJet approaching me as I crossed the road. What really caught my attention, this time around, was the instantaneous appearance of mobile phones with cameras, as everyone began to snap photos and immediately email them to all their friends. Those few who were present to see Jay were only the tip-of-the-iceberg and the virtual community was many times bigger, scattered around the globe. But within seconds, they were all as well-informed as those who were present.

As the community increasingly becomes virtual, will the role of RUGs be as a clearing house for ideas, and the go-to place for access to NonStop expertise? Given access to a VPN these highly skilled resources can equally be at home migrating to a new NonStop, running QA tests, and even diagnosing complex integration problems.

Do we really need to see them on-site, populating cavernous expanses of cubicles, before we value their contributions and come to appreciate the knowledge and expertise they have? After all, unlike the time of change that comes with each season, the skilled resources we need remain active within social networks, and the knowledge they retain cannot be as easily dismissed, as Jay had so easily done with his EcoJet car, with a “but that's beside the point!”

As well-networked as we are today, I have to believe such a shift will be practically impossible to derail and the importance and influence of the RUGs will only get stronger. I have to believe that this is already becoming widely understood and I will be anxiously awaiting the outcome.

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